29 Mar 2013

Sport: Oceania Champions League football returns this weekend

11:17 am on 29 March 2013

Football's Oceania Champions League returns on Saturday following an off-season makeover.

The format has been rejigged, with the introduction of home-and-away semi finals and a winner-takes-all grand final.

Defending champions Auckland City travel to New Caledonia to tackle on Mont Dore first up.

Head Coach Ramon Tribulietx says one of the biggest changes this year is the condensed schedule, which will see the entire competition completed in less than two months.

"We used to play throughout the year so we used to have a game every maybe four or five weeks. This year it's all coming together which makes it really tough because we know that it's very difficult for us to travel to the islands and play a game, and then come back, and then play another game straight forward, because the conditions up in the islands are very difficult and then some players struggle to recover from that physical demand."

The Solomon Warriors will be competing in the Champions League for the first time and coach Brendan Crichton accepts his team will start as underdogs.

We probably lack a little bit of the experience some of these other clubs have had, that have been regular competitors in the O-League as well. It's going to be a little bit of a learning curve for some of the players, and also the management as well. We need to make sure we use our home advantage to our benefit - I mean it's obviously very warm and conditions here are a little bit different to most other places as well and we need to make sure that we get off to a good start, to have any chance in the competition, otherwise I think we will be fighting the whole way through otherwise.

The Solomon Warriors host Vanuatu champs Amicale FC first up in Honiara on Saturday.

Meanwhile Fijian champs Ba encountered a hiccup en route to Port Moresby for their match against Hekari United.

The team was due to fly out on Thursday but club President Rishikendra Kumar says the players didn't receive their transit visas so will now arrive in Papua New Guinea on Saturday, just an hour and a half before their match is due to kick off.